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CD of The Week

Week of 7/01/19

    Thom Yorke - ANIMA (XL)

    For over two decades, Thom Yorke has engaged in something of a frenemyship with modern technology. While he has often (and often rightly) taken technological advances to task for the adverse, alienating effect they can have on the psyche and world at large, there's no denying his ability to use them to his advantage, both in how he communes with his fans and in how he composes and distributes his music. The idea of "OK Computer" has mutated from concession to command to critique to comfort to catastrophe and back countless times over, both in his songs (with and without Radiohead) and in the public discourse. That push and pull continues with Yorke's third, and best solo album ANIMA, which finds him constructing some of his chilliest, most synthetic compositions yet, then filling them with some of the most oddly soothing songs he's ever written on his own.

    In hindsight, it's actually surprising that it's taken this long for Yorke to go full techno on an album. He's often shown exquisite taste when commissioning remixers for his tracks, and "Idioteque" would most certainly qualify for "banger" status if released today. However long it took for a full album of sounds like this to emerge for whatever reason, Yorke wears and wields them like they're his bread and butter. Opener "Traffic" is a "lean in" moment if ever there was one. Throbbing synths sprout a frantic jitter of beats and bleeps that would sound just as home on a dance floor in the dark as they doubtless will across festival fields in the coming months. The beats are a perfect match for the claustrophobic, dystopian narrative Yorke lays out, creating an instant intensity that's begging to break. They may briefly break in next song "Last I Heard (...He Was Circling the Drain), but Yorke's yearning for release remains: "I woke up with a feeling that I just can't take."

    Yeah. It sounds bleak, and given how utterly, painfully right society has proven Yorke over the years, it's understandable. But as the album pushes forward, Yorke pushes back against said bleakness. "Dawn Chorus," which interestingly was the constructed LLP for Radiohead's recent A Moon Shaped Pool, finds him daring the darkness within and around him to do its worst over cinematic synth notes that could have easily subbed on last year's Suspiria soundtrack. "I Am a Very Rude Person" continues to demonstrate this defiance with lyrics one might be bold enough to describe as hopeful, or at least resilient. The fact this comes backed by a slower, more syncopated version of the aforementioned "Idioteque" makes it go down even smoother, almost as if Yorke is actively succeeding at slowing the digital flood in real time.

    The other half of the album offers just as much catharsis, satisfaction, even subtle surprise--why yes, those would be whooping Warp style sound effects on "Not the News." The whole endeavor serves as a reminder that while Yorke, and we, may still feel unease over where things are in the world and where they may go next, there are still ways to anchor yourself, find your bearings, and hopefully plot your own path forward through it to something better. We may all be slaves to the black mirror at this point, but as long as we can still see ourselves, and Yorke's music playing in it, we might be ok.

    Review by Rob Huff

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